Monday, February 14, 2011

Fiftieth Anniversary of Santo Domingo Church

Fr. Pedro Tejero, OP

October 10 of this year 2004 marks the 50th foundation anniversary of the church and convent of Santo Domingo, in Quezon City. This date brings to our memory important historical events  worth being remembered and treasured with gratitude. Forgetting the tradition inherited from our ancestors is tantamount to renounce to our own personality, while remembering and reviving that tradition means to enrich ourselves and to deepen in the life and development of the individuals, institutions and peoples.
On December 27, 1941 a squadron of Japanese airplanes flew over the city of Manila, leaving behind a rain of destructive and incendiary bombs. On that fatal day, in a matter of hours, the convent and church of Santo Domingo were reduced to a heap of embers and ashes. Very little or nothing was spared from fire and destruction. The next day, at noontime, the Japanese airplanes hit again destroying and burning the Beaterio of Santa Catalina, Santa Rosa College and part of the College of San Juan de Letran and adjacent buildings. Those who witnessed it described the entire scene as dantesque, unforgettable.

Amid these fateful events and misfortunes, what happened to the venerable image of Our Lady of the Rosary (La Naval) enthroned in Santo Domingo church? Thank God the Virgin was spared from flames. The Santo Domingo Fathers, foreseeing the worst possible scenario, a few days earlier, took down the Virgin from her altar and placed it in the safety vault of a building adjacent to the convent, called Procuracion de la Provincia del Santo Rosario. Three days after these events took place, a group of Dominican Fathers approached the place where the safety vault was. After removing a heap of still smoking ashes, they managed to open the safety vault. With immense joy and feelings of gratitude to God, they saw that the image of the Virgin was unscathed. It had been saved from the fire! With devoted veneration they put in on a wagon and transferred it to the chapel of the University of Santo Tomas. Therein it was placed at the center of the altar for the cult and veneration of the faithful who came in crowds to see it again on her throne. From the date until its transfer to the convent and church of Santo Domingo, in Quezon City, on October 10, 1954 the Virgin presided and graced all the worship activities, novenas and celebrations of the parish and of the University of Santo Tomas.

The cornerstone of the Santo Domingo convent church, in Quezon City, was blessed in 1950 by the Bishop of Batanes, Msgr. Peregrin de la Fuente. The lands where the present convent and church were at that time rice fields. The completion of the convent and of the church construction took four years. Thus the Dominican community settled in the convent on September 25, 1954 and it was composed by a quite large number of members.

The transfer of the venerated image of Our Lady of the Rosary (La Naval) to the new church took place on October 10, 1954. On that very day, at ten o’clock in the morning, the church was blessed by the Archbishop of Manila, Msgr. Rufino Santos. At four o’clock in the afternoon, around one million faithful had gathered to join and watch the procession. The Virgin, enthroned on a soberly adorned carroza, traveled from the chapel of the University of Santo Tomas to Santo Domingo church. Throngs of people crowded together all along Espana and Quezon Boulevards. A good number of bishops joined the procession together with the members of the Central Seminary and the UST Dominican community. Upon reaching the church, at the sunset, the Virgin was placed at the gate and there the Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was held, presided by Fr. Esteban Gómez, OP, Pro-vicar General of the Order of Preachers and delegated by Rome to preside at those acts. Since the church was still unfinished, a temporary wooden altar had to be constructed to accommodate the image of the Virgin.

The morning of October 11 gave us a pleasant surprise. As soon as the gates of the church were opened, a crowd of faithful filled it up in a matter of minutes. This was totally unexpected. A mass was celebrated but the communicants were so many that there was shortage of hosts to the point that many faithful were unable to receive communion!

Although the Virgin had taken possession of her magnificent shrine, however, the construction work of the church was on going. For this reason the community Fathers deemed necessary to transfer the image to an improvised chapel, in the Sala de las Cofradias (Guild’s Hall), at the entrance of the interior cloister of the convent. That was the venue where the community gathered together to pray the Divine Office, the rosary and celebrate the morning masses. Large numbers of faithful came to this chapel to see the miraculous image closely and enjoy her sweet and merciful look.

When the construction was finally completed and the altar of the Virgin had been covered with marble brought from Italy, the image was transferred to its throne, located then at the right side looking towards the main altar. On the left side altar there was the beautiful and inspiring carving of the Cristo del Santo Entierro, a very popular confraternity in the church of Intramuros.

At this stage, the apostolate and pastoral activities started being organized. The schedule of masses was established, both on weekdays and on Sundays and Holydays of obligation. The attendance to those Eucharistic celebrations was truly massive from the very beginning. The confessional boxes were approached by a large number of penitents coming from all over the Archipelago. The Third Order and the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary were reestablished. Also the Holy Name Society, with its national headquarters. Another confraternity that was revived with powerful vitality was the one of the Santo Entierro y Virgen de la Soledad: Former members returned to the bosom of the Confraternity, which held annually with great solemnity of the Santo Entierro on Good Friday. It can be said that the apostolic activities of the church were, from the very beginning, intense and spearheaded for a promising future.

These were the beginnings of Santo Domingo convent and church in Quezon City, declared as National Shrine of the Rosary by the Philippine hierarchy. We close this historical footnote giving thanks to God and to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary for having inspired in the Superiors of the Holy Rosary Province the construction and enhancement of the grandiose shrine. Thanks also to the many people who worked and made possible such magnificent project. Surely their names are written in the book of life, in the presence of God, who rewards everyone according to their deeds.

Source: Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas Vol LXXX, No. 845 (November-December 2004)

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